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US Rejects Claim Drone Hit Refugee Camp in Pakistan


FILE - A Pakistani flag flies at Manatu mountain in the central part of Kurram Agency, Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, July 10, 2011.
FILE - A Pakistani flag flies at Manatu mountain in the central part of Kurram Agency, Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, July 10, 2011.

The United States has denied Pakistan's claim that an American drone strike targeted an Afghan refugee camp in the country, in a war of words between the uneasy allies.

The denial Thursday came a day after missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft struck a militant hideout located between Pakistan's semiautonomous Kurram region and the Hango district, both in the country's northwest. The pre-dawn Wednesday attack killed a commander of the Haqqani militant network and his two aides.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry denounced the "unilateral action," saying a compound being used by Afghan refugees was hit.

"In response to Pakistan government claims that the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in Pakistan this week, I can confirm that there were not any Department of Defense airstrikes outside of Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews told VOA's Carla Babb.

It is extremely rare for American officials to publicly discuss drone operations in Pakistan and their outcome.

"Had they [U.S.] shared intelligence, [with Pakistan], we would have targeted them," Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told VOA, saying there are no "organized" militant sanctuaries in the country.

In maintaining that the drone hit one of two refugee camps in the area, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal called for the early repatriation of the refugees.

"Pakistan has also been stressing the need of early repatriation of Afghan refugees, as their presence in Pakistan helps Afghan terrorists to melt and morph among them," Faisal said at his weekly news conference.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency told VOA there are no refugee camps in the area where the drone strike occurred. He did not, however, rule out the presence of undocumented Afghans there.

Pakistani officials say that of the estimated 3 million Afghan refugees living in the country, nearly half are undocumented.

Islamabad has set a January 31 deadline for all refugees to return to Afghanistan, although U.N. officials anticipate an extension, saying it is impossible to repatriate such a massive population.

The deadline was announced earlier this month after U.S. President Donald Trump suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan to force it to prevent militants from staging cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has denied the charges, alleging Washington is scapegoating the country for U.S. military failures in Afghanistan. The allegations and counter allegations underscore a deterioration in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.